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Dr. Juan Fitz, a ‘hero of emergency medicine,’ dies of Covid-19 in Texas

When Dr. Juan Fitz, an emergency medicine physician in Lubbock, Texas, caught the coronavirus, he viewed it like he did everything else: as an opportunity to help others.

Fitz, 67, “lived and breathed emergency medicine,” said Dr. Michael Chamales, the medical director of the Covenant Health Emergency Departments in Lubbock and a fellow ER physician who worked with Fitz for 15 years.

So it was not a surprise to those who knew him that Fitz planned on using his diagnosis to educate the public.

Hospitalized in early October with shortness of breath at Covenant Medical Center, where he worked for nearly 20 years, he texted a longtime friend, Christy Martinez-Garcia, to tell her he was sick. Martinez-Garcia is the publisher of a monthly news publication serving Lubbock’s Latino community for which Fitz wrote health columns, and when she asked him if he would be willing to share what Covid-19 symptoms felt like with her readers once he got out of the hospital, Fitz did not hesitate to say yes.

“We just said, once you get done, we’ll do an interview on our Facebook page,” Martinez-Garcia, 52, said. “That got him excited.”

Instead, Fitz’s condition worsened, and he was transferred to the intensive care unit, where he was later put on a ventilator, his daughter, Natassja “Tasha” Sloan, said. On Nov. 3, he died.

Fitz was a larger-than-life presence wherever he went, Sloan, 36, who also lives in Lubbock, said. He loved to dance, watch “Looney Tunes” and trash-talk anyone who rooted against the football team at his medical school alma mater, Texas Tech University.

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But his true passion was emergency medicine, Sloan said. He chose to go into the field because he loved mysteries.

Tasha Sloan with her father, Dr. Fitz. (Courtesy Tasha Sloan)
Tasha Sloan with her father, Dr. Fitz. (Courtesy Tasha Sloan)

“He always said, ‘It’s something new every day,’” Sloan, an insurance billing specialist, said. “In the emergency department, you’re solving a case, and you have a short amount of time.”

Fitz was an active member of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians and the Lubbock County Medical Society. His dedication to his patients garnered him multiple awards, including in 2008, when he was recognized as a “Hero of Emergency Medicine” by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“A really good friend of mine told me, ‘God needed a damn good doctor in heaven, and hand-picked your dad,’” Sloan said. “I’m like, ‘Could he have not picked someone else?’”

“A really good friend of mine told me, ‘God needed a damn good doctor in heaven, and hand-picked your dad.’”

Fitz was born in El Paso, raised by parents who both spoke Spanish as their first language. Fluent in Spanish himself, he was particularly interested in helping Latino patients. For 15 years, he wrote for Martinez-Garcia’s bilingual publication, Latino Lubbock Magazine, educating readers about everything from the importance of flu shots to the dangers of leaving toddlers in hot cars.

“He utilized his language skills and his cultural background to make that connection,” Martinez-Garcia said,

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